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July 2018

Thirsty by Mia Hopkins (Eastside Brewery Bk 1)

Second chances new start (1)When his temporary post-prison living arrangements fall apart, Salvador Rosas need a cheap place to crash, quick.  Chinita, an old lady from the neighborhood lets him crash in her garage for $200 and the labor of cleaning it out.  Chinita's granddaughter Vanessa, loses her mind when she finds out, but lets him stay anyway, on probation. 

Sal was sent to prison at 19, after spending most of his teens stealing cars and running with a Hollenbeck gang in East LA, ever since his family started disintegrating after his mother and sister's death. He knew back then that Vanessa  was too good for him, with her good grades and her drive. But just as he was being sentenced, she was finding out she was pregnant by the first boy she ever kissed, another gangster just like him, Sleepy.

In the 5 years Sal spent in Prison, Vanessa's life changed. Widowed before she became a mother, she didn't get out of the neighborhood, but she did get her degree. She works hard as bookkeeper, studying hard to pass the CPA exam. She let her life get derailed once and is determined not to let it ever happen again.

Thirsty is told exclusively through Sal's POV, his worries, anxiety and tension about what to do next with his life is central and that focus is what makes this story work. Sal is big, dangerously built, charming and super-sexy, but from his POV we also know how he struggles to acclimate to life outside of prison, to figure out what the right choices are for him.  We  know that he is wary, anxious and utterly convinced that he isn't worth taking a risk on.  That contrast between his outward  image from images-na.ssl-images-amazon.comappearance and his inner vulnerability allows me to connect to him.

Hopkins does a wonderful job with depicting the complexity of Vanessa and Sal's connection to their neighborhood and their Mexican American heritage.  While I don't love the fact that Sal and Vanessa's ex, were both gang-members and the centrality of gang life to the story, and I wish there were more non-gang affiliated supporting characters in the story, I still liked it.  Chinita and her gang of elderly chismosas were a ton of fun. I also liked the contrasts Hopkins developed between the two white men who enter Sal's life.  Barry is his boss at the gym, sees someone he can exploit in Sal. He might frame his offer to train him to be a trainer as something that would benefit both of them, but Sal is right to be wary. To Barry, Sal is an opportunity.  Alan on the other hand, recognizes in Sal someone with potential.  He mentors and befriends without in non-patronizing way.  He feeds Sal's curiosity by sharing his passion openly and I wasn't surprised that he was there when Sal needed him most.

If you enjoy stories about second chances, about finding a new path in life despite past mistakes, try Thirsty. Despite my wariness that the story w
ould reinforce the very harmful stereotypes of Latinx criminality, it was a story that was very respectful of the challenges of growing up with few choices and focused on building a better future. 

 

 

 


2018 -- Mid-Year Favorites #readRchat

Mid-Year Favorites
This past weekend #readRchat, a monthly romance reader focused twitter chat, asked us to name of our Mid-year Favorites.  These are mine:

Favorite Books 

This has been such a good year for books. I know authors have struggled more than ever to write stories with HEAs, but as a reader I need HEAs more than ever. So thank you all for keeping your fingers typing and your pens and pencils sharp.

Muscular man in blue plaid, his shirt open, held by a dark haired beauty in a black cocktail dressRai's Forbidden Hearts series is soapy intersectional romance that is super sexy. It has a fantastic overarching family saga plot that is finally unraveled in Hurts to Love You. My favorite book in the series is undoubtedly, Wrong to Need You but I loved how Rai wrapped up the series and seeded her new one in this one. 

Cover of Ivan by Kit Rocha, Shirtless tattooed man, woman in white dressI adore Kit Rocha books, so it should be no surprise that Ivan (The 3rd book in their Gideon Rider's series) made my list. This was a cross-class, bodyguard/princess romance.  Ivan is the son of a martyred hero, who grew up on the streets when he and his widowed mother lost everything because of his uncles's failed coup. He seeks redemption and wants nothing more than to die protecting the Rios family. That is until he fell in love with the Rios princess, Maricela, who he is assigned to protect. 

A couple dancing, man in tuxedo and woman in red dress
It has been thrilling to see a Puerto Rican authors getting  RITA noms and mainstream attention, so I was excited to read Oliveras's Her Perfect Affair. It didn't disappoint. I really loved Rosa's and Jeremy's story, especially the way she didn't a cave under the pressure and compromise herself into a marriage of convenience.  I love the Fernandez sisters and I am looking forward to the third book so much. 

 

I"ll have a review up of the fabulous Duke by Default over at Love in Panels in a couple of weeks.

 

Favorite books read in 2018 published in prior years:

 

Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton 51OkGLhwV+L._SY346_My favorite books of the first half 2018, written in previous years were Fire Touched by Patricia Briggs and Jo Walton's Tooth & Claw.  I had originally skipped reading Fire Touched because my libraries didn't own it in ebook or audio (while they had all the other ones) and Penguin backlist prices are always steep.  However I was shamed by all the other Briggs fans for skipping what they consider one of the best books in the series. They were not wrong to shame me. I really loved how Adam, Mercy and the Pack work together and they dynamics of how their pack shifts to make room for Aiden.

Jo Walton totally committed to her concept in Tooth and Claw. It is fantastic and fully, Austen or more accurately Victorian Fiction starring dragons. Not with Dragons, but Dragons.  The worldbuilding was fantastic from the cannibalistic Lords getting rich and fat off the flesh of their peasants to the politics of honor and power.  As an Austen fan, I adored it.

Favorite New Installment of an Ongoing Series:

image from winterfell.blogs.com image from winterfell.blogs.comIron and Magic is a book I really enjoyed and definitely didn't know I wanted till I read the excerpt the Andrews had posted on their website. I found Hugh a fascinating villain but I was not one of the ones clamoring for his story. However I am fascinated with Hugh as someone recovering from religious zeal and although I don't know a lot about Elara, I do want to know more about her past and the power she carries.

Ocean Light, I really enjoyed Ocean Light, especially Kaia and her clanmates. I was fascinated by seeing the story of Bowen's background and how he became the Alpha of the humans but it was decidedly a middle, set-up book, were the focus was on clicking things in place for the Trinity vs. Consortium fight that has been brewing for several books. 

Favorite Debut Book of 2018: 

I focused this year on new-to-me authors but I didn't necessarily start with their debut books. Some of the New-t0-Me authors I have read and enjoyed this year are Therese Beharrie, whose Surprise Baby, Second Chance, I reviewed this month, Mia Hopkins, whose Thirsty was erotic, emotional and fascinating and Ada Harper's whose Conspiracy of Whispers was fantastic.   Hoping I fall in love with during the second half of the year with a couple of debut books whose ARCs I am over due to read but are both historical which I haven't been reading much of right now, (sorry Jude Lucens and Eve Pendel).

Favorite Author Discovery:

image from winterfell.blogs.comI adored Peter Darling and I immediately checked my TBR to see if I had bought Austin's other books Coffee Boy and Caroline's Heart.  I am saving them for I need something beautiful and moving to read.  

Favorite Underrated Book of the Year so Far:

image from winterfell.blogs.comIn my review in January I wrote the following:

This story was just fantastic, and then you add the fact that O'Keefe and Lang's stories are included in there too, and I can't believe more people aren't reading these. They are just stellar nuggets of contemporary romance. 

Favorite Audiobook :

I was delighted with the narration for this book. It was sly, arch and funny and I really got a great sense of all the characters.

image from winterfell.blogs.comBest Surprise of 2018:

A8/ can’t say I ever go in not expecting to love a book but I was absolutely delighted with how good Katz’s Cybernetic Tea Shop #readrchat really great SFF f/f ace rom. https://t.co/LBfBhagyJl

— Ana Coqui (@anacoqui) July 7, 2018


Ruby Lang recommended this book during #Rombklove and it was just a delight to read. The 
worldbuilding was subtle and the story sweet and all about how we make connections.

Favorite Romance Adjacent/Related piece of Pop Culture:

Jane-the-virgin33My 14-year is a big fan of the CW and of television in general. She was shocked to discover that I had not been watching Jane the Virgin, especially since she knows I love romance. My only defense is that I watch TV sporadically, binge watching British murder mysteries series when I am burnt out of reading.   But I have adored what I have watched of the first season and I look forward to spending time with my daughter as we watch the Villanueva family find their HEAs.

 

Most Anticipated book of the 2nd half of 2018:

Duke by Default  beautiful black woman in a colorful dress in the arms of a silver fox man in a grey shirt and black pantsI hope you are all anticipating A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole. I loved what Cole did with Portia ( the difficult best-friend in A Princess in Theory) and the personal  journeys she takes Portia and Tavish on.  On my TBR for this month is Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner's Free Fall from their fantastic Space Race Era historical romance,  Fly Me to the Moon series.   I'm also anxiously awaiting the concluding chapter in the Ilona Andrews's Kate Daniels series, Magic Triumphs.

A Year in Review:

2018 has been a fantastic year for romance. I have read so many fantastic books. If you want to see all I have read so far this year, you can read my bookthread on twitter. I am posting a mini-review for each book I read this year. I have loved keeping track of my reading this way.

I also decided that I should drop all that data into spreadsheet and crunch some numbers. 

I still overwhelming read M/F, 90% of the books I have read so far this year have been M/F, which shocked me until I read through the list again. I have been reading a lot of backlist UF and Contemporaries featuring m/f couples. Just looking at that stat alone, I am glad I decided to log what I am reading.

31% of the books I read were by AOC, so there is still a lot of room for growth there.  The numbers show that I am overwhelmingly reading Contemporary, PNR and Urban Fantasy with a smattering of the other sub-genres. I've only read a handful of Historicals or SFR this year.Genre Breakdown

 

 


Iron and Magic by Ilona Andrews (Iron Covenant Book 1)

Iron and Magic cover by Ilona Andrews A woman with long white hair dressed in white and dark haired man dressed in black stand in front of a castleWhen I heard that Ilona Andrews was writing a book for Hugh, I was mystified. In the Kate Daniels novels Hugh was the brutal, remorseless Warlord for Roland, who cut a brutal path through Atlanta, killing many of Kate's near and dear friends and allies. He is not a  heroic figure. He was a capital V-villain. But if we know a character's eye-color you know someone out there in Romancelandia is hoping for their book. I didn't think I was one of those people, and then I read the excerpt and I reconsidered.

Hugh is reframed in this book. He continues to be the fully-committed brutal warrior in the ridiculous over-sized horse.  Having been exiled and cast aside by Roland, he has been un-moored and has spent nearly a year drowning himself in alcohol, until the surviving members of his Iron Dogs come find him.  They are being killed off by Roland's men and they need to regroup for safety.  Starving and down to their last coins, Hugh chooses to accept an unlikely alliance. 

Elara has a castle full of followers and mysterious folks very determined to push her out of it. She needs Hugh and his troops as protection. She offers him a bargain. A marriage of convenience, where she will provide them income and a secure location and he provides protection.  Both are desperate enough to make the bargain without looking to closely at each other's past.

Elara and Hugh's flirtation through mutual antagonism is one of my favorite tropes. Their tit-for-tat battles while putting on a nice face for bystanders just made me gleeful. I love particularly how their hyper-awareness of each other due to their suspicious natures, means they see each other in a way no one else does.  They see past the bluster, and facade of control, to see when they are fearful or hurt.  They are both under incredible pressure as leaders. Although they both have trusted friends on their sides, in the end they are both alone in making the hard choices for their communities. They have a lot of unvoiced feelings and secrets yet to unpack and I am eager to see where things go next for this couple.

I can't wait to learn more about Elara, her past with the Remaining and the reason she left with her Departed and just how Hugh will come to terms with what she truly is. I expect Ilona and Gordon Andrews to continue to unpack the dangers of religious devotion and where the lines are drawn between adoration, love and loyalty.

If you are a Kate Daniels fan already, I hope you pick up Iron and Magic.

 

 

 


Surprise Baby, Second Chance by Therese Beharrie

48. Therese Beharrie ‘s Suprise Baby, Second Chance (eARC, 8/7) forced-proximity, SAfrican-set m/f. Rosa left their seemingly happy marriage without a word & their near reconciliation has consequences.Strong emotional conflict as they face their anxieties https://t.co/BbUvioLYKK

— Ana Coqui (@anacoqui) June 23, 2018

A black woman with light brown curly hair is hugged and nuzzeled by a handsome black man in white shirtsleeves.Rosa walked away from what Aaron thought had been a happy marriage. Her surprise abandonment, shattered his confidence and his sense of what they had together.  It is Rosa who is blindsided when she walks into what she expects is her mother-in-law's birthday bash to find herself stranded alone with her estranged husband at his family's vacation home.

Stuck together for the weekend, Rosa and Aaron can no longer avoid talking about the hidden guilt and anxiety that has driven them apart. Despite the fact that they both care deeply about each and still are deeply attracted they find a way to reconcile and overcome the ways they have denied each other trust and intimacy when they needed it most.

Beharrie has her characters unpack  and reckon which whole host of mental anguishes and anxieties that stem from the very particular way they met. Cancer, caretaking and parental abandonment both physical and emotional play a huge role in their relationship dynamics, more than each of them realize at the start of the novel.

The escalation of their confrontations and the very realistic way they spiral off-topic to other sensitive topics felt very real, especially they way to very verbal people can talk circles around each other while failing to understand what the core conflict really is.

The book felt emotionally true, especially Rosa's conflicting desires and questioning of her choices and her deep fear of becoming someone Aaron comes to resent. Aaron's struggles to confront his own anxieties about being someone deserving of love where equally heartbreaking.

And this is all before they have to figure out how to respond at the news of an unplanned pregnancy.

This book packs an emotional wallop that never shies away from the very un-cute downsides of forced proximity scenarios. I appreciate how truly uncomfortable it is not to be able to escape an emotionally intense conversation because you are literally trapped in a the room together and then seemingly trapped in a relationship because of impulsive choice.

Neither of these characters responds in all the right ways. They really struggle which makes their efforts at trying to put together their relationship and becoming more accepting of their own mental health struggles was highly emotional book to read.

 

An ARC of Surprise Baby, Second Chance was provided by the author, Therese Beharrie for review consideration.

Surprise Baby, Second Chance is available for pre-order right now and it due for release on Aug 7, 2018.